Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
There are so many factors involved in something like that, so it’s hard for me to be specific. On a psychological level, I am sure that I need to create music as a means of personal expression, because I am not very good at it in the traditional ways.
On the other hand, my philosophy (if I can use such a grandiose term) is simply that, if I only have one life, I should use my time doing what I love the most. I’m also just as happy and present when I am drawing or writing, but music eventually took the reigns.
In terms of direct musical influence, I had dreamed about becoming a professional drummer when I was a teenager. It’s the only instrument I trained in and back then I was deeply passionate about practising. However, my late-Dad very kindly bought me a little 8-track recorder on my 18th birthday, which is when I quickly drifted into ambient guitar music. It was around the same time that I discovered The Album Leaf, Explosions In The Sky, Stars Of The Lid etc. That lead to where I am right now, answering this interview.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
Learning to play drums has definitely shaped the way I create music, even though a lot of my tracks don’t even have percussion. It’s difficult to fully articulate it here, so you’ll just have to believe me!
Jimmy LaValle (The Album Leaf) played a significant role in inspiring me to start creating my own music. For that reason, I’m still digesting that fact that I toured with / befriended the band last year. It definitely helped a lot to know that Jimmy was making these incredible, expansive albums largely by himself.
I think I must have mentioned Devendra Banhart & Do Make Say Think in almost every interview I’ve ever done, but they are also two artists that haven’t left my record collection for the last decade. Devendra is particularly inspiring, as he just gets better with each release. I can do a pretty good (and pretty ridiculous) impression of him, but only a select few have had the unfortunate experience of hearing it.
Bibio’s instrumental album Fi was a big influence too in terms of guitar sound. I still struggle to finish an album without running the guitars through some form of tape machine.
Lately I have developed a great appreciation for some of the classics such as Nick Drake & The Beatles. I’ve become a big Beatles nerd lately.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
The age old problem of working tremendously hard but earning a tiny amount of money as an “artist” is always a big issue. It’s absolutely no wonder to me why so many musicians suffer with severe anxiety issues because of this.
Money is persistent source of genuine worry for many musicians (including myself), but it’s always difficult to find a job in between that is flexible enough to allow space for touring or recording.
A lot of people don’t realise the huge amount of costs involved with touring, that the artists have to cover themselves. It’s not uncommon for bands to finish a tour with barely enough money left over to cover their month’s rent.
Luckily for me, I mostly play either solo or duo, so I don’t have particularly high touring costs (van hire, backline hire etc). Although, being a solo artist certainly has its downsides too. It can be a very bizarre and isolating feeling to return to an empty hotel room, having just deeply connected with a room full of 200 people shortly before. If there is a bad show or a brutal album review then it can be a heavy load to take alone.
It’s also becoming increasingly difficult to get any press for new albums. I know more and more artists who spend many months (or years) crafting an album, only for the release to totally slip under the radar. Not enough press then has a dramatic effect on agents’ abilities to book shows, which can be deeply disheartening when an artist wants to perform. I’ve certainly experienced that before.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
The small number of commissions I have previously worked on have all been very stress free and easy. Luckily, those projects have given me almost complete freedom as to what I wanted to create.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
I always like the musicians that I work with to contribute whatever they want. If I have asked them to join me, then I totally respect and trust their ears. Plus, it is always refreshing for me to hear how someone else may interpret the song and to be surprised by what they bring to it.
At a few of the shows with The Album Leaf last year, their violinist (Matt Resovich) would sometimes just improvise through my whole set. It was great fun, even though I missed my regular violinist, Beatrijs De Klerck!
I would love to perform with a choir one day, so for that I would need to set much more rigid guidelines.
Of which works are you most proud?
I’ve always felt a particular fondness of ‘Sanctuary’, from an EP called Light Shadows. I’m not sure why, but I do remember feeling a cathartic release once the recording was finished.
‘Shimmer’ from my forthcoming album certainly contains the most open and honest lyrics I’ve ever written. I’m a little nervous about sharing that one into the world.
How would you characterise your compositional language?
That’s a difficult question to answer. I think that some would hear it as vague & clouded expression, but for me the songs are very specific and personal. Especially the instrumental songs, which have some vivid emotions and memories attached.
How do you work?
For an instrumental piece, I will usually spend some time with my effect pedals, electric guitar and loop station. Usually in the early hours of the morning.
But most of the time I will sit with my acoustic guitar, singing wordless melodies until something sticks. Sometimes I will have a little melody for weeks until I am able to expand it into a full song, but the last album all flowed out incredibly quickly and naturally.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
Far too many to list, but lately I have been enjoying Kyle Bobby Dunn, Benoit Pioulard, Martyn Heyne &George Harrison.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Explosions In The Sky at KOKO (London) in 2008 was absolutely mind-blowing. I’m not sure if I have seen anything that has topped that.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
The real joy is in the process of creating music – anything beyond that is a nice bonus.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I’d like to live in the countryside, with a nice lady, a pet cat, an upright piano and a garden. Any takers?
What is your most treasured possession?
My late-Father’s 1950’s Gibson. It’s a piece of magic.
Tour dates: willsamson.co.uk
Will Samson is a British-born musician exploring the middle ground between ambient, electronic, experimental & acoustic music – using a variety of recording techniques, which often focus heavily on the use of old tape machines & analogue equipment.
Will’s full-length album, Balance, was released in October 2012 by German label, Karaoke Kalk (Hauschka, Dakota Suite, Bill Wells). Late 2013 then saw the release of a collaborative EP, It Grows Again, with producer Tom Demac. The title track gained radio play on BBC Radio 1 & 6, and was even one of Lauren Laverne’s “headphone moments” of her show. This was followed up in April 2014, in the form of a limited 12” vinyl entitled ‘Light Shadows’. The EP of new, solo music also featured remixes by Benoit Pioulard (Kranky) & Ritornell (Karaoke Kalk).
2015 saw the release of another collaborative project as Will Samson & Heimer, released their debut LP, Animal Hands, and later that year a full-length solo album, Ground Luminosity, was released via Talitres. The album received excellent reviews, with Mary Anne Hobbs describing it as “…a real beauty”.